While Big Soda’s attempts to dodge a sin tax fizzled out at the polls in Berkeley on Tuesday, so-called Big Ag notched victories against two states’ plans for mandatory GMO label laws.
Voters in Oregon rejected Measure 92, which would have required labels on products containing genetically modified ingredients. For shoppers, that would have meant seeing a “Genetically Engineered” or “Produced with Genetic Engineering” stamp on raw and packaged foods — eliminating the guesswork as to whether their salmon filets or peanut butters were produced with the assistance of nucleic-acid tinkering done off in a lab somewhere.
But Monsanto, a.k.a. the world’s most hated corporation, apparently dipped into its GMO cookie jar to gather roughly $7 million to topple the Oregon initiative, which broke state records for campaign spending on both sides. Together with ConAgra, DuPont, PepsiCo, and other companies, they spent a total of $20 million. Supporters of labeling mustered around $8 million, arguing that consumers have the “right to know” what’s in their food. Meanwhile, a separate initiative was toppled by a two-to-one margin in Colorado, where Monsanto contributed $4.7 million, making up more than a quarter of the opposition campaign’s funds.
Unlike 64 other countries — including Australia, China, and most of the EU — the U.S. doesn’t mandate GMO labeling at the federal level. Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont are the only states with “right to know” laws on the books. But the past year has seen a rash of GMO labeling initiatives: 29 states introduced labeling legislation in 2014. More than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of federally mandated labels, so it’s unlikely that this issue will go away anytime soon.
For now, labeling advocates can take heart in this week’s upset in Maui County, Hawaii. Voters there approved a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops, which would stop most of Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences’ farming operations in Maui County. The companies — who outspent labeling supporters 87 to 1 — already have plans to challenge the ban. We at least know they have the funds to do so.